Yeezus is Kanye West’s most brilliant middle finger to the world. No radio singles and guerrilla-style promotions hint that the album itself is the product of man who just has no more fucks to give. And when a man has nothing to fear, he is at his most powerful.
Kanye West’s latest body of work is audacious, courageous, bold and daring. Here he swaps the lush sweeping grand production he is known for to minimalist, dark, woozy genre-blending beats. Acid-house, grungy electro with a touch of dance-hall are the order of the day. Tired of maintaining the status quo and bureaucracy of his industry, Kanye West has broken every single rule in the ‘Steps-to-a-million-first-week-hip-hop-album’ handbook and made the most unorthodox offering in the genres recent history that will make even his most loyal fans hesitate to embrace it. Like the man, you’ll either hate or love Yeezus - there is no in-between and that’s probably the way Kanye wants it.
It only takes the first ten seconds of the album to let a listener know that the next forty minutes are going to be very uncomfortable with music that will be hard to digest if you aren’t a MDMA-popping acid-house loving punk. Distorted edgy synths that sound like they belong in a Nine Inch Nails record open up on the Daft Punk assisted “On Sight” for a good half a minute before Kanye comes in sounding angry and incensed, a tone he keeps for most of the album. “A monster about to come alive again” he snarls before going in, spitting one of the many eye-popping lyrics that pepper the album like “we get this bitch shaking like Parkinsons” ( Michael J. Fox won’t be too happy with this one) and “Black dick all in your spouse again/And I know she like chocolate men/she got more niggas off than Cochran” is just the tip of the iceberg of his dissection of the black man/white woman relationship. The song is interrupted midway by a 5 second soul-sample that is just one of the many genre-merging surprises on the album.
“Black Skinhead” sees him further talking about how society views interracial relationships negatively. He raps: “They see a black man with a white woman/At the top floor they gon’ come kill King Kong” in a frenzied rhythmic pace. Kanye sounds like he was rhyming while on a treadmill trying to keep up on a frantic drum beat with an ominous underlying bassline. “I Am A god” doesn’t allay a listener’s alarm with its blood-curdling gasps screams and outright blasphemy. “New Slaves” has Kanye exploring the evils of black consumerism which is quite hypocritical considering how he loves Balenciaga even though he insults its director Alexander Wang in the song. He also touches on the Prison Industrial Complex and racism while on an anti-corporate tirade. The sparse sinister bassline makes sure that we hear every word and then all of a sudden just smashes into a soul coda that has Frank Ocean crooning in falsetto. Who else can make you rock out and then make you swoon in one song?
On the surface it seems like Kanye has a political agenda engaging in some social commentary until you hear lines like “your titties, let em out, free at last” referencing Martin Luther King’s famous phrase, and “fist her like a civil rights sign” on the drill mixed with dancehall “I’m In It”. Lyrics like these let you know that Kanye will rap about politics anyway he sees fit. His use of Nina Simone’s “Strange Fruit”, a song about lynching, in a song about gold-digging women, divorce and sex can be forgiven though in “Blood on the Leaves”. The album’s zenith, it touches both the heart and soul with its grandiose horns, sombre chords and Nina’s haunting voice.
If the Civil Rights stalwarts are going to be gunning for his blood the religious zealots won’t be far behind with lines like “I’m a rap-lic priest, getting head from the nuns” but for all the controversial lyrics and narcissistic black humour-filled rhymes there are those songs where Kanye is emotionally open, heartbroken and just genuinely sad. “Hold Your Liquor” is a story about a guy trying to make up with his ex featuring haunting vocals from Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon and “Bound 2” is perhaps the most classic Kanye track on the album with a beautiful soul sample laced with introspective honest rhymes about the difficulties of relationships.
The genius of this album is that it is so dichotomous in its nature from production to subject matter. Kanye can go on an angry narcissistic tangent and then lament some poignant self-examining rhymes. He can rap about anti-consumerism in one song and about his Porsches in the next. He can turn political symbolisms into lewd metaphors. But most importantly he had the gall to mix aggressive brash grinding beats with sugary chipmunk-soul.
When you’ve been a trailblazing trendsetter since your come-up; from music to clothes, its more natural to break boundaries than follow convention. All the great artists have constantly re-invented themselves and Kanye has literally made the world question the very definition of hip-hop with just one album. His courage and his extraordinary production skills have truly made this album a work of art and like most great works of art it, will probably only be truly appreciated in another time. Yeezus is as polarising as leaders and followers but he’d rather be a dick than a swallower which is fitting considering he had the balls to put out an album like this.
Written By: Nomusa Mthethwa (@NomusaMT)